I am blaming men

Trigger alert.

Tshegofatso Pule Stabbed and Hanged Whilst Pregnant..Facts Of The Case

I am angry today.

Tshegofatso means ‘Blessing’ in seTswana.

What a beautiful name for a beautiful woman, who was about to give birth to another beautiful girl-child.

And yet she won’t because both were murdered.

I am sickened by the inability of our society to rid this world of gender-based violence. All these cute little catchy phrases like GBV and BLM mean nothing to Tshegofatso’s mother. I don’t want to hear anyone say, ‘All lives matter’ or ‘’ it’s not all men.’ That means nothing to Tshego’s mom either. In fact it is downright insulting. It’s an outrage.

It is time that men owned this problem. I am impressed to hear Tshegofatso’s uncle speak out in this vein. Just how are we raising our sons that they have such contempt for the sanctity of life? And lawyers (men) like him need to stand up and be counted now.

I have just watched the Jeffrey Epstein documentary on Netflix and again I am sick to my stomach at (male) lawyers who stand accused of at best not doing their jobs, and at worst collusion and guilt of abuse of so many young women.

What struck me was one survivor saying, “you won’t remember me because there were so many, but I will be forced to remember you for the rest of my life.’

And what about the others who stand accused: the powerful Bill Clintons, ‘Prince’ Andrews? Donald Trumps? Harvey Weinstein has at least gone to jail and fallen from grace, and back home Uyinene’s murderer will never see the light of day again (we hope). But all those famous ones…? Will this all be swept under the carpet and are they hoping the dust will settle so they can just carry on as before? Like ‘Khwezi’s’ infamous violator? He certainly has. Has anyone investigated Alexander Acosta? Will they?

What about the #MeToo Movement, #TimesUp, and in our own country, The Rhodes Reference List and all the female-led protests? How successful have they been in changing the narrative of femicide and rape in the world?

But the real question is: where are the men leading the way in combating the abuse? I am sick of hearing the gaslighting that goes on around this issue, like ‘men also get raped you know.’ That’s not the point and just as it’s gaslighting to say that ‘all lives matter,’ so does that argument not hold water when women are not safe anywhere, even during lockdown. In 3 weeks of lockdown, gender-based violence units recorded 120 000 calls. Let’s just unpack that: 120 000 in 21 days…5714 women per day! And that’s the ones who were able to seek help.

And we’re worried about COVID-19?!

None of what I am saying is new or startling and that is the greatest tragedy. We have heard it all before. Every now and again a case will grab the headlines and people will march and protest and then it’s back to business as usual. In fact, in Gauteng, people returning from an anti-GBV rally in Gauteng last week, found the body of yet another woman near Soweto. She is still unidentified though, so no headlines for her…

It’s these murders and rapes that make me extra angry. It’s not just famous actresses crying out it’s a young woman at a festival, a schoolgirl walking home from school, a child in her home, refugees and war victims. I have listened to and read the essays of too many students over the years to have patience for this anymore.

After Uyinene died, my school took a day to purge social media of posts, jokes or anything that smacked of rape culture in an effort to examine our own culpability; yet toxic masculinity is more pervasive and ingrained in the human race than that.

I once watched a father berate a young female teacher with vile language in front of his own son. Needless to say, he didn’t last long at my school, but I often think about him and his son, and wonder what kind of adult that young man will become.

A word to the women who defend their sons and lovers : shame on you. When you raise your sons by different standards and indulge that ‘boys’ will be boys’ mentality, and let them believe they are little princes in your home, you are guilty of encouraging rape culture.

But what I really want to know is what men are doing about it. All those people who worked for Jeffrey Epstein knew what he was doing; yet did nothing; even if, like the man who managed the island communications, they resigned, they still didn’t stop it. I don’t get that!

I have been sexually harassed in the workplace (it ended badly for him); I have had men try to intimidate me physically and mentally and I have even had someone try to kill me, but as Maya Angelou says, ‘Still like dust, I rise.’ As Sylvia Plath (who was abused by her famous husband too btw) also said, ‘we shall inherit the earth’. But at what cost?

Silence gives consent, gents. It’s time you spoke up; stood up and grew up. This is not a female problem. It’s a male problem.  YOU fix it.

Don’t you dare comment on women’s bodies or laugh at sexist jokes; don’t you dare use female body parts as pejoratives, because then YOU are part of rape culture. Don’t you dare victim blame or defend men’s actions. Don’t you dare patronize women you work with or assume that a ‘yes’ to dinner means yes to sex.  Don’t you dare think that your punching her is her fault, or that you have ANY right to her body, married or not.

Because then you might as well have stabbed Tshegofatso yourself.

8 Things that have changed since the dawn of The Age of Corona

How to Break Bad Habits, According to Science | Time

Aristotle believed that there are seven causes for the changes in human behaviour.

  • Chance
  • Nature
  • Compulsions
  • Habit
  • Reason
  • Passion
  • Desire

COVID-19 has certainly been a major disrupter. I saw a TED Talk once about how to form positive habits in just 30 days. So, I thought, ‘Ok I shall make some positive changes while we’re incarcerated at home.’ Some have been good changes; others… through no fault of mine, I declare… not so much.

This is what has changed since lockdown for me:

1. I’m writing

On the plus side, I am writing again every day, which is for me like going to gym…without the gym. I feel rejuvenated afterwards, and it’s fun.

2. Me-time

I have ring-fenced me-time slightly better, although I can see this resolution slipping since the return to school process has started. I have enjoyed getting more sleep than usual and hope that I can try to limit the number of nights I burn the midnight oil.

3. Traffic

Traffic is better -I am hoping that more companies have realized that they can in fact trust their administrators to work from home. Please. I’d like to be able to sail through as we are able to do now – gives me an extra 15 minutes sleep every morning.

4. Reading

Unfortunately, I have given up reading books temporarily. Well of course that’s because the library is closed and I just cannot do online books. Not with our wifi. Just when you get to the end of a page or an exciting part of the narrative, damned if it freezes and then when it finally reloads it’s back at the point you were when you picked it up. And it’s hard to get quality books for free on the internet, and I just can’t get myself to spend money on a book which I am only going to read once. I’m tightfisted like that. Having said that, If I can solve my data issues, this could be a revolutionary change in my life.

5. My car is dirty

This is a sad story. Car washes are not yet open so picture my excitement when the oil change light came on. ‘Oh good,’ I thought, ’I can get my car cleaned at last.’ Not so lucky: the service centre was operating on skeleton staff and so no non-essential stuff (like car valeting apparently) was happening. 

I got even though.  Unintentionally I swear…

After dropping off my car and having to rope in my husband to transport me further, I received a call informing me I’d been in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 (Fortunately all is now well with said-person, so I can tell this story). As a good citizen, I now needed to inform the garage that there was a chance that I had contracted the virus and that I’d send in my husband to collect my car later. Well they weren’t having any of that – they delivered the car, hooted and left the keys on the roof… It was a little disconcerting I must say, although I can totally understand their temerity to come anywhere near me, but it did make me think I should buy a bell while I was out having a COVID test so I could yell ‘unclean’ as I walked. Of course, I didn’t need to …I was driving for one, and secondly my car was also still ‘unclean.’

Not even all this rain has sorted it out.

I guess I could wash the car myself; but, well…perish the thought.

6. Heaters

Spending so much time at home has made me realise how inhospitably cold it is in our house, so I have allowed the heaters to go on. We’re spending a fortune on electricity, but it is so cosy – at least we shall be warm and poor.

7. Grocery Shopping

… because we are going to be poor. Has anyone else found they are spending so much more on food? My grocery bill has skyrocketed with all of us at home constantly. I used to be able to buy clothes every month. No more. I’m barely breaking even. Now it’s biscuits and chocolate and other exotic snacks I don’t usually buy, along with fancy juices and lots of everything in case we need to hunker down again… And that darling little suit I nipped into Zara to purchase just before lockdown, is never going to fit me now!

8. Education

Education will never be the same again. There will be a clear BC (before Corona) and AV (After Vaccine) in the timelines of every organization. At this stage, at my school, we are adjusting to a hybrid form of teaching and learning with some learners and others logging onto our livestreams from home. With no gatherings in the immediate future, events like valedictory and matric dances present real challenges, which we shall have to meet with some creativity. The coronavirus has single celled dragged us into the 21st century technology-wise and that’s a good thing, but I am sad to see us reverting to industrial-age rows in an effort to social-distance and losing the collaborate hubs we were using. We have to be creative about that too going forward.

I just hope that all the positive changes that have taken place in our society, like appreciating medical staff more than celebrities, lower data costs, families revelling in their home activities and banks being kinder on debt repayments, will remain, but I fear that once things return to some semblance of normalcy I fear that selfishness and sloth will return… just as the urge to exercise has diminished now that it is no longer forbidden fruit to jog.   

I’ll leave you to decide which of the above changes fall under each of Aristotle’s headings. But, no matter the cause behind the positive changes at least, it is definitely time to turn some into excellence:

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.”

―Aristotle

The Storms in our Lives

We’ve had a hectic few years but at least we’ve learnt some science and a few new words.

Have you ever watched a storm?

How I have loved the storms of the last couple of days! As a Capetonian, there is nothing quite like snuggling down in your warm bed as the tempest rages beyond. Hearing the rain lashing the windows when you are warm and safe indoors heightens the sanctity of your haven. At last we are having the winter storms again that I remember from my childhood, with thunder and lightning, and driving rain .

At home, where I sit at my desk, I look out onto our front garden and the road beyond it. Yesterday as I worked on my laptop in the late afternoon, the storm winds were propelling the deluge across the balcony and the road was flooding from the many sudden downpours that had already dumped more rain in one day than we had the whole year in 2017 when we had such a drought in Cape Town.

Remember when ‘Prevent Day Zero’ was the rallying cry to save our province from running out of potable water and we came within a month or two of doing that? We had to change the way we did things at school then too. Who remembers having to work out how to wash all those aftercare dishes without covering the earth in the plastic and disposables we’d been avoiding up until then, (because we’d always ensured we ‘re-used’ rather than chucked); or figuring out where to sink a borehole; learning words like ‘reticulation’ and learning how dams are made. We showered with a bucket (we still do, good citizen teachers that we are); and of course we didn’t flush! But we got used to it. And we survived to stand in delight under the first showers which broke the drought.

Then came that euphemism to beat all others; ‘loadshedding’ (It’s a ‘power failure‘ damnit!’) And we learnt terms like ‘grid’ and ‘overloaded;’ we tried switching off the geysers to save power and got into trouble with the landlord for damaging the switch. We discovered the horrors of the Eskom financials and at school we installed solar lights in our driveway and sourced generators to ensure we could run a school dependent on technology, not to mention examinations. That is what I was busy with when COVID-19 sashayed across the globe.

And suddenly, we were thrust into a world of epidemiology and virology and have learnt about face masks and what the correct concentration of alcohol in hand sanitizer should be (70%); and terms like ‘social-distancing,’ ‘flattening the curve,’ ‘floor decals ‘and ‘lockdown,’ not to mention my own worst one: SOPs.

What do these crises all have in common? Us. People that’s who. Humans over-farm; crooks rob our state-owned entities blind and if we didn’t invade animals territories we wouldn’t have viruses jumping species (We won’t get into that the little corona bug could have been manufactured, because there’s just no way someone would do that… is there?… is there?)

It’s one thing to have these crises in successive year, but since we’re talking about storms (well I was, but became horrible sidetracked), what it happened that a perfect storm of events resulted in

What do these crises all have in common? Us. People that’s who. Humans over-farm; crooks rob our state-owned entities blind and if we didn’t invade animals’ territories we wouldn’t have viruses jumping species (We won’t get into that the little corona bug could have been manufactured, because there’s just no way someone would do that… is there?… is there?)

It’s one thing to have these crises in successive years, but since we’re talking about storms (well I was, but became horrible sidetracked), what if it happened that a perfect storm of events resulted in all of these things happening at the same time: you know a deadly virus, running rampant around the country, in the midst of a drought and then we run out of electricity…You think it can’t happen?

Well almost exactly one year ago we were watching Notre Dame burn; then three major reports published in journals “Nature” and “Nature Geoscience” declared that global warming is the fastest it’s been in 2,000 years and scientific consensus that humans are the cause is at 99%; exactly a year ago, tens of thousands of people began to riot in Hong Kong; just six months ago the majority of Brits voted for Boris Johnson. And you think it’s not all our own fault?

We’ve brought it all on ourselves.

For now I’m just happy to have a good old Cape squall. How much worse can 2020 get?… Perhaps I shouldn’t ask. But then again:

‘Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart.’

Chuck Palachniuk

Late Night Bed-Dread

9 Ways to Stay up Late and Avoid Feeling Sleepy

Turns out this is a thing.

I get very little sleep at night more is the pity. And yet when I am done with my work, I just can’t seem to simply climb into bed and pass out.

I mean, I can, but I don’t.

I’m wondering whether any other night owls are the same. I don’t have a problem falling sleep so I am not an insomniac. I just have me-time FOMO. I know I should be grabbing what precious hours are left before dawn to take a trip to visit Morpheus, but I delay that wonderful surrendering of self to the oblivion of sleep, like a child refusing to nap.

And what do I do? I scroll aimlessly through my social media. It’s not exactly a meaningful activity, I know. Before the world was turned on its head and libraries shut (gasp!) I would read at least one chapter of my current book, fighting the natural desire to nod off, just so I could grab some pleasure in the long-dead day. So, I dawdle and do thinks like paint my nails or go down some Facebook wormhole that I have no interest in at all.

And I think that’s the problem: I feel so deprived of leisure time that I punish myself still further and get even less sleep. I can just hear my mother scolding me about ‘cutting off my nose to spite my own face.’

And the worst is that I grow more agitated the later (or earlier) it becomes, knowing that I am missing out on sleep. I can’t win.  And it’s a foolish pastime because… well time passes as I delay the gratification of sleep in order to feel that the day wasn’t all about work.

There is such a thing as ‘somniphobia’ (I kid you not – I read it in the University of Google library, but it is more a fear of being asleep. https://www.healthline.com/health/somniphobia#symptoms

I am not afraid of sleeping. I love sleep. I simply want to have some time to feel I did something for me before I go to sleep.

Another article refers my weird behaviour as ‘bedtime procrastination.’ And draws connections to poor self-control (nonsense I say as I pop some more choccies in my mouth.) and one’s circadian rhythms. https://www.popsci.com/why-you-stay-up-too-late/

Yet another piece speaks about ‘delayed sleep-phase syndrome’ which suggests that there is a gene which causes nocturnal wakefulness. https://www.verywellhealth.com/delayed-sleep-phase-syndrome-overview-4585048

So, turns out I’m not that special – loads of others also suffer from this silliness (in fact I’m a bit troubled to realize that all these articles mention ‘sleep disorders’ in the same breath, so perhaps it’s time I sorted my $$#% out. My competitive nature cannot bear to be ‘disordered.’) The good thing about living in the Western Cape during stormy winter nights is that after a while you have to snuggle down…and I have the Maestro there too… so I never stay up all night.

But turns out I’m in good company:

‘I tend to stay up late, not because I’m partying but because it’s the only time of the day when I’m alone and don’t have to be performing.’

Jim Carrey

6 Things to Know about Compassion

The Dalai Lama was once asked if he could reduce the essence of all that is common to major religions into one word, and legend has him saying that that word is ‘compassion.’

This has stayed with me for a long time and underpinned what I find so powerful in my own faith. It’s something others have shown to me and which, as I grow older and hopefully a bit wiser, I am growing to see as singularly important in my dealings with others.

It requires a gentleness and empathy and a slowness of pace, a giving of your time to someone else’s world. And compassion defined as ‘feeling with’ another, an entering into someone else’s suffering.

Here are some things I have learned about compassion:

1. Compassion upholds the dignity of another

If you treat people with mercy and gentleness, you have recognized the humanity in each. It gives life to the Hindu greeting of ‘Namaste,’ (The sacred in me recognizes the sacred in you.) It’s saying, ‘I see you’ when an individual may be feeling invisible.

2. Suffering can increase your compassion

The more hurt, grief, betrayal, penury and bullying you endure, the greater the potential for deepening your own compassion.

After my mother died I became intensely aware of how desperate people can feel when they lose someone they love and I became much better at helping my students and their parents (and indeed my own friends) through their times of grief.

When my first marriage broke up, I became more understanding of the aching paralysis experienced when one stands bereft of the love of your life and its meaning, not to mention the poverty that often accompanies betrayal and abandonment.

I’ve survived toxic work environments and determined never to pit employees against each other and always to remember that staff members are human beings, not numbers to discard on a whim. I have seen both in various settings.

Recognizing the humanity in other people actually allows you to forgive your enemies because when you imagine them as suffering fellow travelers in life, it’s easier to let go of hurt.

3. You need to have an imagination

The Age of Corona has heightened the need for both empathy and compassion for people we’ve never met. I must care about people I don’t know. I must imagine what situation that person in the shop is going home to and be moved to wear my mask properly, stay on my own jolly decal on the floor and sanitize, not to mention refrain from going out when I’m sick. (Of course understanding how others may feel can lead to unnecessary guilt in an empathetic person. The other day, I had a tickle in my nose from my allergies, not the virus, in the queue at Woolworths, and had an urgent need to sneeze, but for the first time in 55 years, I swallowed the sneeze in terror that I would be thrown out of the store or lynched by fellow shoppers.) But I digress…

There is a huge need for the gentleness of compassion in this time when people are struggling with anxiety and when many are staring financial ruin in the face. It’s tempting to respond to outbursts from other people with our own annoyance in equal measure, but trying to recognize that they are just projecting their own fears onto you, helps you keep your temper and soak up their rage.

4. Compassion isn’t a feeling, it is a conscious decision.

Compassion is love in action. Therefore, it can be learned. It’s no good knowing something or feeling sorry for someone. Compassion requires the devotee to reach out to someone to help. Don’t feel bad that someone has been retrenched; buy them groceries.

5. COMPASSION DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN necessarily FIX things.

This may seem to gainsay the previous point, but sometimes you can’t fix someone else’s problem; sometimes things are beyond fixing. But the compassionate person is the one who sits and passes the tissues as the sufferer cries her way through her grief or becomes the kitchen help when there is a death in the family and just makes the tea for all the visitors. If I think of the people who heard me vent over the years about things they had not control over, who heard me say the same angry words over and over until I had expunged the ache, I am so grateful to have been blessed to have such friends.

It may be that you have to be a firm presence and not help even when you could, in order to empower someone needing to grow. Again compassion doesn’t prevent you doing this gently. One of my teachers who had the greatest impact on me when my parents divorced and I was acting out (Mrs Paveley at Springfield Convent Junior School back in 1976) held me to account for my cheeky behaviour, but understood and acknowledged (if a little gruffly, as was her way) that I was hurting. That’s all it took. I would have walked through fire for her afterwards and I cleaned up my act very quickly. And I never forgot.

6. Some people in business think compassion is a weakness

This annoys me no end. Just as hardened business consultants will pooh pooh qualities like good communication as ‘soft skills,’ they will also see a focus on people, as distracting when it comes to making ‘those tough decisions for the good of the business.’ And that’s rubbish.

It takes great emotional strength to put your own feelings aside and cross a psychological ravine to connect with another human being.

A compassionate person might need to make decisions which affect people negatively, but they can either find people-friendly solutions or manage the situation in such a way that the person involved maintains his dignity. Richard Branson says ‘Look after your staff and they will look after your customers.

In the end compassion makes us better humans:

“There is a nobility in compassion, a beauty in empathy, a grace in forgiveness.”

John Connolly

10 Things to Know about Wearing a Mask

These are 10 things I’ve learnt about wearing a mask for up to 10 hours a day.

1. Beware of bad breath

Invest in breath mints, especially if you are a garlic aficionado – you’re going to be far more aware of yourself and you don’t want to survive COVID-19 only to succumb to Halitosis.

On the plus side your mask will protect you from the onion odours of other people too.

2. Perfume is best kept for romantic evenings at home.

Woman in robe spraying perfume on wrist

Don’t waste your time wearing perfume – it will be diluted by Eau de Sanitizer. And if you’re hoping to lure someone closer with it, he can’t smell it if he’s wearing a mask, so save it for after a vaccine is found or for a love fest at home..

For perfume enthusiasts, do not despair, Louis Vuitton is making hand sanitizer now. The bad news is: it’s not perfumed, merely an effort to re-purpose their factories to assist the French war effort against the virus. But still…

3. Lipstick sticks to your mask

Lipstick is optional, but you may need to remember the face paint for Teams meetings, or opt for ‘no video’ and claim to be saving data. Uploading a pretty picture to your profile will keep people thinking you are still at your pre-lockdown gorgeous. (This also helps if you need a cut or colour). Just a heads-up though, if you do wear lipstick, be careful it doesn’t smear the lipstick all over your face: you could end up looking like the Joker when you do switch on your video. And you have to wash it all off your mask later.

4. Focus on eyes

Eyes are the windows to the soul they say (Well, Shakespeare suggested that in both Romeo and Juliet and Richard III) so we are going to become more literate in each other’s souls when speaking, because that is all we have to look at – worth noting for the daily make-up regime too.

5. Watch out for eyebrows

Eyebrows are important for communication now. As a redhead who doesn’t have eyes without an eyebrow pencil, I am working on remembering to draw them in each day. Possibly trim the unibrow if that sort of thing bothers you; otherwise this is a grand opportunity to chuck the gender-oppression of make-up entirely.

If you’re wanting to learn a new skill, work on raising one eyebrow at a time for effect – it will help to prevent boredom during off-camera Teams meetings too. Just remember to switch off your video!

Remember people can read many things into your expressions above the mask; make sure your face is saying what you intended it communicate.

6. Masks mist up glasses

Wearing a mask that’s snug over the nose and wearing your specs over the fabric helps. But if you breathe like Darth Vader, expect to be fogged up often. And don’t believe those life hacks about shaving cream and other lens cleaners. Soap and warm water cleansing of the lenses works best, but you’ll just have to try to prevent sending out so much hot air (double entendre intended).  The good news about being bespectacled though is that no one can sneeze coronaviruses into your eyes.

7. You’ll get more exercise

You’ll get in more steps in the day because inevitably you will have to dash back to collect the mask you left behind when you left for work/school.

8. Look after your ears

Make sure the mask is not too tight or we’ll all end up with ‘bakore’ by the end of this pandemic.

9. Keep your social distance

If you’re slightly deaf like me (my mother warned me about all that rock music), you may have been unconsciously reading lips for years. It’s harder to hear someone through a mask and one has to be careful of inadvertently stepping closer to catch the gist of the conversation, especially if someone has an accent). Remember to keep your social distance and own up repeatedly to not being able to hear – blame it on the mask.

College student creates special face mask for deaf and hard of ...
https://en.newsner.com/community/college-student-creates-special-face-mask-for-deaf-and-hard-of-hearing-community/

10. Look after your skin

Skin allergies from washing powders or merely teh fact of having something over your face for long periods can affect your skin. I discovered to my horror, that you can still get pimples in your fifties! So, watch out for skin irritations – teenagers guard against outbreaks of acne by careful cleansing and drying of skin to prevent bacterial infections becoming acne. Perhaps bring spares to school and change mid- schoolday to prevent dirt building up.

Types of Acne: Pictures, Treatments, and More

On the plus side a mask is a good way to hide those pesky random zits.

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Notwithstanding all of the above, if you want to live and save lives, consider your mask your superhero costume: Up, up… and away!

Should they stay[at home] or should they go [to school]

At long last we’ll be welcoming back our matrics and Grade 7s to school on Monday, after 73 days in Lockdown!

And for our Grade 12s, matric will suddenly get real!

Be prepared for increased levels of schoolwork stress in your children. That is to be expected. As each grade phases in, it is likely that certain other fears will be experienced, especially concern about contracting the virus or anxiety over little things, like: ‘Will I “pass” the screening?’ ‘How will the new systems operate?’ and ‘Could I infect someone?’ ‘Will my friends still play with me, or want to speak to me?’

‘Am I behind in my work or not grasping key concepts enough to cope with my final examinations?’ as well as thoughts such as ‘’Will I be accepted into my chosen field of study next year?’ which are usual worries at this time of year, may be uppermost in the minds of our seniors.

We are ready to deal with all sorts of trepidation in both our staff and learners as we navigate the new way of doing things. Our counsellors and School Based Support Teams are on alert, because, as a school with an ethos of looking after the body, mind and spirit of our children, we are so aware we need to nurture them emotionally through this period also. (We are also aware that you, their parents, are also anxious about sending your children back into the world. We understand because we are parents too.)

Our school is fortunate in that we can offer a hybrid form of learning whereby students who cannot return yet or whose parents want to keep them at home for a while longer, can live stream the day at home.

Even learners tuning in from home may not be immune (if you pardon the pun) to some anxiety, however. They may suffer from FOMO and parents of such children should also watch out for what psychologists are referring to as the ‘Lonely Children Effect’ which according to Maria Loades, a clinical psychologist from the University of Bath, UK, interviewed on Cape Talk today, says ‘can manifest itself for years’.  

Social interaction is critical for the intellectual and social development of young people, so do factor in some additional data costs, for your youngsters at home to spend a bit more time talking to their friends. Yes, I am actually telling you to let them spend a bit more time online; you have not misread. It’s how they socialise. For example, gamers shooting things with their friends is not necessarily the worst activity for them, because if they are playing online, they are also bonding, which at this time is really important. Unless that’s all they are doing, or you need them to take out the garbage, in which case turn off the router (or just threaten to, if you are in need of some entertainment at their expense, as one does when one is an evil parent like me.)

You may think your children can’t be lonely because they have you or their siblings to spend time with, but Loades says that peer play is what is important, not only DMCing with the ‘parentals.’

The other thing that will add to their stress is the fact that once more there will be change in their lives. Remember that resistance to change is a form of grief. Our staff and children will go through all of these processes as they come to terms with the next new normal. It will be both your job and ours to help them to reach acceptance and acclimatize themselves to the new protocols. Mourners can go through 5 stages of grief, not necessarily experiencing all of these or even moving in this order:

  1. shock and denial
  2. anger
  3. bargaining
  4. depression
  5. acceptance

And when there is organisational change, people can go through similar phases:

[For the record psychologists don’t all agree with this model, and dispute the progression of ‘stages’ concept, because folk don’t necessarily experience all these emotions or have them all in this order, but it certainly has some relevance anecdotally, and you may well recognize these in your children.]

Identify them either to yourself or with your child and help them through the hard stages. Because, eventually, we can get used to anything. Humans are clever that way. Knowing what you are dealing with, should empower you to make the tough calls, (especially if you encounter some ‘school’refusal’ but it should help you also to love them through the shock and denial stages. Good luck with the bargaining stage if you have a wannabe lawyer or lobbyist in the house though!

We cannot wait to meet our masked warriors of the New Age of Hybrid Education and welcome them home, as well as meeting some in your homes on our live streams. If you are lucky enough to be able to work from home still, think of us in this brave new world while you lounge in your pjs. I just hope I can fit into that darling little suit I bought before lockdown…

“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. “Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.”

― Tina Fey, Bossypants

‘It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.’

– William Shakespeare

Remember Y2K and all the fears that the world’s telecommunications and banking systems would come crashing down at the stroke of midnight? I can measure the passage of time and world events around which of my babies I was pregnant with or feeding at the time.

I watched the start of 2000 from Baby Shannon’s rocking chair in her beautiful nursery, in our home on a hill in Johannesburg, with a spectacular view across to the fireworks in Sandton City. Besides all the conspiracy theories and apocalypse predictions, it was an exciting time to be alive, with much anticipation about the dawn of a new era, even if there was much disagreement about whether 2000 was the end of the millennium or the beginning of the 21st century (it’s the former fyi).

I was nursing my newborn daughter when the night sky was illuminated by the magnificent display of pyrotechnics. It was as if the heavens were celebrating her birth, this tiny princess who was already a celebrity in the house with her delicate features and easy nature (well then, anyway.)

We had measured record rainfall that summer (the highest in over 20 year), so much so that Shannon was nicknamed ‘Mapula’ which means ‘rain’ in Setswana, but on that night the sky’s curtains opened on a perfect evening and the vison of those fireworks remains imprinted in my memory, like a happy portent that the 21st century would be better than the previous one. I was overwhelmed with the pleasure of my life.

Of course, I was relieved to have shed the swollen ankles that went with carrying a baby through a hot, muggy summer on the Reef. My misery was topped only by a mother at the older children’s school who was carrying twins. When we bumped (literally!) into each other at the year-end school concert, I was chastened at the sight of her, for feeling grumpy over my own discomfort: by then she had abandoned any attempt at haute couture and waddled into the auditorium in a tent dress and her husband’s bulky size 10 running shoes.

“I was full of self-pity in this heat, until I saw you,’ I whispered, ‘but now I just feel so sorry for you.’

She didn’t even bother to be poised about it and, beyond dignified denials, merely hissed, ‘Yes! You should be!’

My mother used to say that you can always find someone better off and someone worse off than yourself in this world, and on that evening, I realized the truth of it. And a few weeks later on New Year’s Eve 1999, I felt my life could not get any better.

I had no idea of course what the future would hold, and how my world would come crashing down around me just over a year later. Who could have foretold that I would lose it all: house on the hill, imported 4×4, husband, and even my birthplace.  

Perhaps it’s better we can never see into the future – we’d wouldn’t be able to face the harrowing days if we could see them coming and I think we wouldn’t appreciate the good times either, if we were living in dread of what was to come.

I didn’t lose what was most precious to me though. Even though, I was heading into a time of dark despair and incredible loss. I just didn’t know it. I also didn’t know that I would one day experience the unbounded joy of both another child and new love.

But in that moment, on the edge of the era, as the lights from outside flickered over my sleeping baby, I was content.

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on.

Hal Borland

Sometimes God doesn’t give you what you want; He gives you your deepest desire.

37 Famous Feminists - Inspiring Women of the Feminist Movement

Since I’ve already written reflections around the birth of each of my sons, I should reference the girls’ births, lest I be accused of favouritism, or horror of horrors, gender prejudice.

The story of Caitlin’s imminent arrival does involve prejudice against women though, but it’s also a story of triumph over that, in one of life’s delightful ironies.

It was Christmas 1993. We had been transferred to Johannesburg “for one year, I promise” (We were there for seven.) and I had just been offered an English teaching post at a private boys’ school, in what would become Gauteng in a few months with the dawn of New South African Republic.

My sister arrived to spend Christmas with us and while we were sunning ourselves on Christmas Eve, the phone rang. (Remember when phones used to ring somewhere in the distance and you had to go inside to answer them?!) I came out stunned. I was pregnant. Not part of the immediate plans, but a blessing nonetheless.

After the celebrations and announcements were over, I realized the tricky situation I was in. I was due to start at the college in the January, with a matric class, and the baby was due in August – mid-prelims. With some trepidation, I called the head of the school to inform him, and stupidly admitted I wouldn’t blame him if he fired me. He promptly did. Of course, he couched it in terms which probably sounded kind to him:  ‘We…eell, we would prefer then that yah didn’t start at all,’ he said in his lilting Irish voice. And that was that. There was no contract to dispute. The legal advice given to me was that I’d opened the door by saying I wouldn’t blame him. So, I was out.

This was a time in education when schools were not only racially segregated, but women also had an unequal deal as employees. When I started teaching I earned R900. My male counterparts with the same qualifications and experience were gifted R1 100 per month. I lost my permanent post in a state school when I got married and no longer qualified for a housing subsidy. And here I was being screwed over by an independent school too.

At the time, I shrugged my shoulders, sold my little blue Suzuki Jeep (Okay I cried about that) and realized that I didn’t want to be a part of a system raising boys to think like that anyway and a few months later found the perfect post at Holy Family College in Parktown, an institution which housed the best head I ever worked under, Alastair Smurthwaite, who later promoted me to my first HOD position. He was a person of compassion and believed in giving his leadership team the room to grow.

I am a firm believer that when we don’t get what we want out of life, we often find our hideen, deepest desire. This is a lesson that I have learned over and over in my life.

HFC was a significant place of learning for me. I had a fabulous subterranean classroom, which must have been part of the old convent building. It was massive and airy and even though it was situated beneath the front stairs, it had a lot of light that came in from windows at the top which looked onto a carpark and enabled us to listen unseen to all the parents gossiping outside. It had huge hooks that we made up ghost stories about, and I rummaged around in unused rooms of the rambling building, braving the odd lurking aged nun, and discovered an old carpet and footstools which we put cushions on and used as a comfy corner for reading setworks and chatting.

The school was also a place where I was witness to great suffering among young people who travelled for miles on public transport, some being victims of unspeakable violence.

I will never forget a young man named Nokwanto whose growth was stunted because of his kidney disease, that forced him to undergo two transplants. His body rejected the second transplant; yet with every day that drew him closer to death, he lived life with a joi de vivre that would shame the most truculent adolescent. My last image of him before I left the school eventually was of him standing arms akimbo, laughing delightedly as soft snow fell on one of those rare Johannesburg days when the sleet is in fact snow.

Then there was the young woman who was gang-raped on her way home because she ‘had airs and graces because she attended a fancy school,’ who gave up her plans to become a lawyer and chose social work instead. And the tall, thin, tortured Nkululeko who postured aggressively in class and drew tormenting demons in his diary, and who slipped one of the most beautiful thank you notes I have ever received under my office door, in which he reflected that I had loved him just as he was. The social worker at the school voiced prophetic words when I left: “This is the letter which will bring you back to teaching.’ And years later when I did return to the classroom, I remembered. I still wonder what became of him.

The school was a fascinating combination of new and old, and the energy of the young people was contagious. The staff was largely female; strong women who were clearly leaders, at least one of whom went on to become a principal in her own right. The Science teacher, a heavy smoker and nearing retirement, was the first female engineer to graduate from Wits University, so there was no shortage of great female role models.

It was a place of healing for me when I lost my mother, and I am still in touch with a student who was delighted to hear that Caitlin was born on her birthday. Caitlin herself has grown up to be a woman of deep compassion and generosity of spirit, and is embarking on her career as a chartered accountant. She rescued me from becoming mired in a school whose male leadership would have crushed me, and enabled me to find one where I was liberated. It is fitting that the child who was born during my time there is forging ahead in what is still a rather male-dominated field, despite have been seen as an inconvenience by a school when she was still in the womb.

Thank you, Caitlin for being God’s instrument in leading me to profound happiness and setting me on my own path towards leadership.

“When they go low, we go high.”

Michelle Obama

Angels who walk the halls in hospitals

angels in the rafters

I had to have a COVID-19 test on Friday. It really made me contemplate my own mortality and the angels who care for the ill.

In the first 24 hours in which I self-isolated even from my family, I realised a couple of things:

  1. I’m quite boring company, but that won’t come as much of a surprise to most people.
  2. I would hate to be in hospital alone and away from my family.

My thoughts of being potentially abandoned in a hospital ICU (Yes, I am bit of a drama queen) reminded me of a time I was forced to do that to one of my children.

Michael, now 23, was four days old when he was re-admitted to hospital and stayed in the neonatal intensive care for another three weeks.

He was born on the Monday before the Easter weekend in 1997, a sweet little brown-haired baby boy who surprised us all after two redheads.  I think all the gynaecologists in the province were planning to enjoy the long weekend and so were inducing their mothers on the Thursday which is when My wee bairn was waiting in the nursery to be taken through for a little procedure (yes… that one!). As a result, I hardly saw him on that day, and until early the next day, when we were discharged.

I couldn’t believe how good this little boy was being as we introduced him to his big sister and brother: he slept through it all. He just kept on sleeping…all day and I was having to wake him to feed. In fact, when I look back, I realize he was pretty much comatose.

Fortunately, he was not my first child, or he might have died (just remember that when you’re choosing my old age home, Michael!) but I knew something was wrong, so in the middle of the night, we called in our babysitter and did some low-level flying back to the hospital to meet the paediatrician.

He was clearly trying to soothe my postpartum hysteria, as he patiently explained he was going to do a lumbar puncture (spinal tap, for my US readers), but gestured to me that I should wait outside. So, my poor baby had a massive needle inserted 0.5 cm into his back in order to withdraw spinal fluid, and I wasn’t there.

The diagnosis: bacterial meningitis! The funny thing about the types of meningitis is this, the viral kind can’t be cured by drugs (bloody viruses!), but the bacterial kind, while it can be treated with strong antibiotics, it can be fatal, especially for a neonate. Dr Greef’s grave tone informed us that he was ‘pretty sure’ he’d survive, and ‘cautiously optimistic’ there’d be no brain damage. I’d have said, ‘well that’s just swell!’ but the horror was that my tiny baby was suffering from a gargantuan headache caused by inflammation of the meninges, the membranes which protect the brain and spinal cord, so ‘swell’ it was most certainly was, but the irony was too awful to joke about!

Michael was admitted into the neonatal intensive care unit at the clinic and spent the next three weeks there. I spent that time commuting between my children at home, who cried when I left and my newborn in ICU who, when I left did not, because he was so desperately ill. I cried both ways in the car, aware that wherever I was, I was abandoning someone. In fact, if you look at photographs of me at that time, you can barely see my puffy eyes from all the weeping.

One outrageous moment of our time there was the soap opera eGoli‘s casting director asking us to allow him to be used as a prop for an episode. you can guess what my answer was, cheeky thespians! (So sorry, Mikey, you could have been famous.)

When I am think of that little mite, abandoned to an incubator, in an isolation ward each night, I reflect now of how dreadfully lonely and frightening it must be for serious COVID-19 patients, to be attached to machines and surrounded by the starkness of a hospital, and how impossibly sad it is that so many people are dying alone, without their families beside them.

To be fair, the intensive care nursing staff was phenomenal with Baby Michael. I still remember one named Andre, who took it upon himself to call me regularly when he was on duty with running commentaries of how Michael had decorated his incubator, necessitating regular changes, much to Andre’s amusement. I often think of that young man and wish I could thank him again.

We speak a great deal about the courage and dedication of health care workers during this pandemic, and it’s worth pausing to comment on the fact that besides their medical duties, these heroes are deathbed comforters too, as well as motivators and cheerleaders of recovery.

Back in 1997, it was an annus horribilis for us as a family (mind you there was worse to come, if only I had known). We’d been private patients and had not anticipated the need for such expensive, specialist post-natal care. I can remember how upset I felt upon receiving the credit control calls, before we managed to pay off the account. It was made known to us much later, that a similar case had preceded ours, in which the child of an attorney also contracted this hospital bug. His legal team apparently closed down the operating theatre and found the bacterial cause. The clinic settled out of court. We were not so fortunate. (Just as an aside, let me tell you, it is intriguing how the medical profession closes ranks against patients when one asks questions of liability…)

But it didn’t matter. I am eternally grateful that Michael survived, healthy with no lasting damage. When I think of how bland life would be without his droll humour, casting hilarious shade at everyone at the dinner table or his writing talent which entertains millions every day; and let’s not forget he was a fair footballer in his day (having recently retired to semi-sloth at age 23). When we have our midnight chats as the only two night owls in the family, I sometimes reflect on those late nights and how I longed to bring him home, as I pictured his tiny form alone in the hospital.

Of course, when I did finally carry him home triumphantly like Simba in The Lion King, I fed him so much in the next few months that he could have won a baby sumo competition, sporting jowls that would have impressed even Winston Churchill.

Tonight, I pray for COVID-19 patients in their solitary suffering and wish that they will also have an Angel Andre to bring healing to their bodies and spirits, and who will find the time to console their mothers.

Oh, my test was negative btw – I’m too wicked to die just yet.